September 13, 2005
TALLAHASSEE -- As Florida State struggled to find a rhythm late in the first half of its 62-10 win over The Citadel, there was a buzz in the press box among those attempting to read the body language of redshirt freshman quarterback Xavier Lee.
Yanked from the game after throwing an interception on the Seminoles' fifth possession, a turnover that led to the Bulldogs' game-tying field goal, Lee retreated to the bench area. FSU coach Bobby Bowden said he had hoped to keep Lee in the game longer.
"I sure had," Bowden said. "It's a case of where you had a guy in there who was doing pretty good, and you take him out and put a guy in there who is cold. I always compare them to baseball pitchers. If a pitcher's in there throwing well, you don't take him out."
Classmate, friend and starter Drew Weatherford returned to the game, only to cough up a fumbled pitch that The Citadel returned 70 yards for the go-ahead score. But instead of returning to the game, Lee sat as Weatherford responded with a 71-yard touchdown drive in the Seminoles' two-minute offense. His five-yard TD pass to freshman wideout Rod Owens -- the first of his career -- tied the game and began a string of scores on nine consecutive possessions.
Suspiciously, Lee was not there to greet and congratulate Weatherford on the sideline. Many read that as a sign of disgruntlement -- a potentially divisive development, immediately prompting comparisons to the 2002 team that was divided between quarterbacks Chris Rix and Adrian McPherson. Those thoughts were heightened when Weatherford was the first to greet Lee following his 10-yard TD pass to wideout Greg Carr late in the third quarter, and again after his 24-yard run with 10:38 to play capped the scoring.
Bowden offered a word of caution to those attempting to assess Lee's body language.
"He's very much that way, anyway," Bowden said. "That's Xavier. If you watch him, he doesn't really seem like he's into it, but he is. I'm sure it's very deflating to have the reputation that he's got and then to be put in the game late (and) taken out."
Bowden said the two have talked at length about the importance of remaining patient, and he cautioned Lee not to put everything into his first year as a player. After all, he still has almost four full seasons of eligibility ahead.
Lee was grateful for the chance to get back in the game, and he responded by completing five of eight attempts for 143 yards.
"I definitely felt a lot more comfortable," Lee said. "That first series I was a little rattled for a second, but after I relaxed and halftime came, I realized I had to get things done and just make plays."
Weatherford made his share, completing 26 of 37 attempts for 342 yards and two touchdowns to go along with an interception. It was the second-best passing yardage day for an FSU freshman quarterback to Rix's 369 against Clemson in 2001, and it was enough to help Weatherford maintain the starting job -- for now.
"I see two quarterbacks that, if you protect them, they can throw the football," Bowden said, "and they can throw it pretty doggone good."
Offensive Changes A Challenge
You're never too old to learn. That's essentially what Bowden said when discussing the changes made to the Seminoles' offense this season.
The move to a zone blocking scheme and designating the right and left sides of the line for the first time are merely the most talked-about changes from a year ago. But the Seminoles also are using new multiple-receiver formations with a greater number of shifts in an attempt to dictate the kind of personnel matchups they want with opposing defenses.
It's the product of an offseason that included visits by the offensive staff with first-year Tennessee Titans coordinator Norm Chow, who spent the past two seasons at Southern Cal, as well as long looks at what Auburn, Louisville and Bowling Green are doing. Bowden described the revamped offense as "Southern Cal-ish" and compared it to the world's best golfer.
"We just don't do it as good as they do," Bowden said. "You saw how productive it can be. It's like Tiger Woods' swing. Tiger revamped his swing, and now nobody can beat him."
With everyone on the same learning curve, Bowden said mistakes were frequent through the first two games. The 75-year-old coach also admitted that the adjustments haven't been easy for him.
"You know old-timey me; he picks it up so quick," Bowden said, laughing. "You're exactly right. I'm just learning it. I don't get involved in it as much as I should, except to mess them up."
Following the Seminoles' victory over The Citadel, Bowden suggested that his team might be a "year away" from greatness again, based on his relatively young team getting a handle on the new attack.
Rouse Boldly Announces Arrival
Heralded freshman Fred Rouse, the nation's top-ranked prep receiver last season, already is providing the Seminoles with the "wow" factor the program has been missing for years.
"It's catching," Bowden said. "He's exciting and I think he excites people around him, and he tries to get people excited around him. ... This guy can't hold it back."
In short, Rouse has brought a Deion Sanders-like buzz to the game with his high-stepping, one-handed ball-handling, jawing and preening. Oh, and there's a quality to his performance as well.
Rouse's greatest contributions so far have come on special teams. A bullet on the kickoff coverage unit, he was credited with recovering a muffed return by Miami's Devin Hester, only to have it wiped out by a review. He's also shown an un-Deion-like taste for contact.
Though he collected just one first reception through two games -- a 54-yard strike from Lee in FSU's rout of The Citadel, setting up a touchdown -- Rouse has brought his brand of flamboyant energy to the punt return team.
"If we can keep him from fumbling," Bowden said, "he's going to get to play a whole lot of football. ... He's electrifying to me."
With senior Willie Reid once again injured (knee sprain), Rouse replaced Leon Washington in the second half of The Citadel game and three times came close to taking a return to the house. With 66 yards on four returns, Rouse may have found a permanent position heading into the pivotal Boston College divisional game.
"That's Mickey (Andrews') call," Bowden said, "but I think it would be pretty smart. I like him right now better than anybody else."